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VINE VOICEon 19 November 2004
Healthy Churches are Growing Churches. That is the premise of Robert Warren's Healthy Churches' Handbook. Using a similar approach to Christian Schwarz's Natural Church Development (NCD), Warren suggests that healthy churches will be strong in seven values, goals and characteristics (as opposed to eight activities in NCD).

These are: energised by faith; outward-looking focus; seeks to find what God wants; faces the cost of change and growth; operates as a community; makes room for all; and does a few things and does them well.

The second part of the book contains practical material to help churches become more healthy, including a questionnaire which enables you to develop a profile of your church and to see which areas need the most work.

Robert Warren is an experienced mission-oriented priest (he was team rector of St Thomas, Crookes at the time of the Nine O'Clock Service) and much of the material was developed while he was involved with the Church of England's Springboard project.
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on 22 May 2013
My church studied this book at great length over several meetiongs and it saved us from dying!

The key points for us were:

Many see church = building + priest + Sunday services
Rowan Williams said "Church is what happens when the impact of Christ on a situation brings two or more people together."

Isaiah 42:4-7 sees `church' as those who work for justice and freedom; + 65:25 for peace
Ephesians 4:1-16 sees it as gifted with an every-member-ministry, not a one-man-band

Some churches are kept going by the vision of one or two members
Some churches are like wheelbarrows - you have to push hard to make anything move.
Some are like a shop window - there isn't anything spiritual in it.
Some are like a boat where some people are rowing very hard but not making much progress because others don't like the direction it's taking, others aren't rowing because hey are only interested in painting the outside of the boat. Others are simple trying to find out how to make it to the shore.
Some are like a jazz church - there are common and repeated themes with which we are all familiar with but you can never tell where the harmonising will go next. There is plenty of participation and plenty of surprising developments coming from al most anywhere in the life of the church.
Some are like an elderly couple in a bungalow watching TV while the young people play outside.

The healthy churches exercise has been used successfully by all types of churches, not just of one size, churchmanship, age profile (of clergy or congregation).

There are biblical images of barren women becoming pregnant. If we want new birth, we need to avoid:

* thinking it is `my/our church' - it's Christ's church
* welcome just `people like us' instead of welcoming all
* saying, in the notices, that people are welcome to stay for coffee but then huddling in small groups and ignore strangers or saying `nice to see you' and not know what to say next
* expecting people to fit in instead of allowing them to express doubts honestly
* the same people speaking at meetings so that more tentative people don't feel able to express their views
* wanting `more children and young people' but then expecting them merely to join in with the way we already do things
* settling for muddling along and keeping people happy
* dwelling on things we did in the past
* using all our energy to, e.g. maintain good choir or building instead of using that energy to relate the bible to ordinary world
* paying attention to being a religious institution instead of providing resources for living.
* being frantic, running around trying to do everything - instead, do a few things and do them well. "Many parish churches overwhelm themselves with actions, meetings and projects....which may in fact be a squandering of energies and resources rather than a faithful commitment to engage incarnationally with God in the world.' Bishop Laurie Green `My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.' Matthew 11: 28-30 "...busyness is the escape mechanism most people use to avoid the pain of learning and change.' Loren Mead
* relying on mission statements - they can mask a lack of vision because they reflected the past when they were drawn up
* being a club running an organisation instead of a community where relationships nurtured in small groups
* being re-active - keeping the show going instead of being proactive - we must end up doing something but be careful it is a step in the right direction
* criticising the vicar for doing too much community work and not enough `church work'
* making token changes, e.g. in the times of service or the building - real change is in the heart
* feeling disillusioned about what we don't think we can do

The Church is a community drawn together by faith that leads them to take action in the whole of life. In seeking to further that community, the process:

* is not a quick fix like a journey but a process/pilgrimage - 18 months determination
* the pilgrimage journey as important as the arriving

It can involve:

* a suggestion box - do not ask `what do you want?' but `What do you think God wants'
* a prayer leaflet
* personal stories with the phone numbers of the authors

Don't ask why people don't come to your church but why they do.

It is important to:

* allow lots of space for people to say honestly what they think
* to identify the ethos of a church (and what it could become) rather than looking at the organisation

We need:

* to seek to know what God wants, not to be convinced that `we are right'
* to remember that values are more important than activities
* to have energy - not to instigate change that requires enormous pushing.
* not just a small group doing all the work and keeping out newcomers from active involvement
* not to be a ghetto churches working for our own existence - we should be working for social justice with other denominations and secular groups e.g. credit unions, drop in centres, language classes, executive stress-busting
* lay people to see the whole of their life, e.g. their work, as ministry
* to see how things look from outside
* to incorporate newcomers: allow the warmth of friendships to be broken open, blessed and given to others
* to nurture faith rather than assume it
* to concentrate on whether the church is healthy rather than on numbers
* openness in personal relationships - that is more important than keeping the institution going - because God is trinity, his life will find fullest expression in and through relationships
* leadership in worship - not taking a service but leading people and is not embarrassed by silences
* quiet efficiency in, e.g. notice sheet, uncluttered buildings, PCC minutes, good relationships with those who come for occasional offices
* personal testimonies where ordinary people tell their stories
* training in prayer
* to follow hunches, take risks and not be afraid of failure
* to encourage people to take on one job and do it well even if that means leaving jobs undone

Most importantly:

We will either die because we are unwilling to address areas needing attention or we will follow Christ as we die to old patterns, habits and securities and, in embracing healthier ways of operating, rise to newness of life

Because the gospel is about life out of death, discussing these issues can release a lot of creative energy - like taking a ball and chain off your foot for churches can all too often be imprisoned by their past

One form of love-destroying characteristic of life together in our marriages and churches is our niceness. In our niceness we believe that being supportive means never speaking our real thoughts and feelings in areas of disagreement...Where we disagree, we need to push against each other in direct ways rather than in underhanded ways that usually result in mutual bitterness. Roberta Bondi

Trees and even skyscrapers bend with the wind. Human beings make choices as they adapt to changed circumstances. So too do healthy churches. They are responsive rather than rigid and ploughing on regardless come what may.

When Moses is given his task and he feels he is not up to the job, God asks him what he has in his hand - we have what we need within our grasp.

Post script

The list of resources refers to the work of David Hay who points out that:

* there is lots of secular spirituality around - people who believe in `something out there' are not necessarily being vague but apophatic
* if every service is communion, there nothing for the seeker, who feels deeply uncomfortable when others `go up'
* we should listen to people and don't try to fit their thoughts into our categories
* post-modernism can be an ally - we can deconstruct secularism just as much as others deconstruct religion
* people who've stopped going to church but who still read bible and pray: one said - God is compassion not a snooper, churches are obsessed with control when they should be servants. They are living in the past when God is a God of the living, not of the dead. Their failure to be concerned with the whole of humanity through political commitment instead of token collections for the poor.
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on 15 March 2014
Used the book as the basis of a Church leaders' away day. Clear instructions on what to do, and guide to time to allow both proved very helpful in allowing the church to explore both its current position and considering opportunities for going forward.
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on 15 July 2013
It is a very useful tool for churches looking at their life and witness in the community, and to build up a corporate profile of how church members can take an active part in proclaiming the Kingdom of God.
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on 11 February 2013
Useful for checking your church is doing things right. Found it very informative and full of hints for a church health check.
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on 21 July 2013
A brilliantly written perspective on steps to identify when a Church is demonstrating stress, and how to do something about it.
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on 5 October 2013
An excellent resource which will enable church leaders and members to review who they are and where they are heading.
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on 27 May 2016
as described
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